Profs. Susan Braunhut and Kenneth Marx have teamed up to pursue a “mind-blowing” innovation—to cause a limb to re-grow in an adult mammal.
The UMass Lowell research group has joined groups from five other institutions and secured funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The UMass Lowell portion of the DARPA grant is $1.2 million for the first two years, with an anticipated continuation of $1.4 million for the next two years.
The research groups expect that by working together they will gain a more complete understanding of the cellular and molecular processes that allow certain creatures, such as salamanders, to completely regenerate lost limbs, and be able to harness this capacity in mammals.
“As a consortium, we’re putting together our knowledge of stem cells, tissue development and healing, extracellular matrix, growth factors and the regulation of gene expression,” says Braunhut. “We’re encouraged by research results and recent discoveries and we believe this goal is attainable.”
The implications of such research are especially evident considering the wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq include twice the number of amputees of previous conflicts and wars.
The team will begin with intense study of salamanders and the super-healer mouse, MRL, to develop a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms and processes—to obtain a blueprint—for regenerative growth. The team will then attempt to orchestrate the formation of a blastema in a non-healing mouse, where scar tissue would normally form.